Transitional housing plans for Ruakākā were canned because government agency Kāinga Ora couldn't secure a lease over the land, Minister for Housing Megan Woods has now confirmed – two weeks after the scheme was suddenly axed.
Kāinga Ora initially refused to release detailed information about its cancelled project which the agency had notified about in mid-November.
The proposed development of 31 transitional housing units was due to start in January, which had caused some upset among residents concerned about the unexpected plans and additional pressure it would put on the community.
Whangārei MP Dr Shane Reti said stakeholders such as Kāinga Ora should be more open about projects that have such a large impact on a community to ensure a successful outcome.
"Kāinga Ora wanted to deliver a done deal – there was no healthy discussion with the community in this case. The best way is to include the community early to ensure they are the best fit for the proposal."
Reti said if Kāinga Ora had publicly communicated its intentions from the start, it would have realised that the proposed site wasn't fit for purpose.
He said it seemed to be a recurring theme with ministries and government agencies to withhold information from the public.
The Whangārei MP had become involved after residents invited him to a public meeting which was then cancelled after Kāinga Ora suddenly pulled its development plans – only three weeks after first notifying the residents.
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An answer to a parliamentary question by Reti has also revealed that Kāinga Ora first contacted Whangārei District Council in October to discuss the proposal.
Council spokeswoman Ann Midson explained that it was common practice for developers – private, corporate or public – to request a pre-lodgement meeting before submitting a formal application.
As part of these meetings, developers can find out what requirements they would have to meet to apply for resource consent.
"One of those meetings happened in October," Midson said.
"It is important that people are able to come to us and safely talk about their intentions.
"Once an application is lodged, the council assesses whether it is to be publicly notified under the Resource Management Act."
Minister Woods explained the urgency with which Kāinga Ora had pushed the development with the need to get as many Kiwis as possible into housing.
"The previous government presided over a reduction of 7500 state houses during their nine years of neglect. This directly led to the families sleeping in cars and kids doing their homework by torchlight."
Woods said a lease could not be secured over the land for the proposed development, which was why the plan was canned.
The Advocate understands the land in question had been landbanked by the Government for possible future Treaty of Waitangi settlements.
According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, there were more than 500 families in October waiting for state housing in Northland including families living in "transitional" places which are often motels.
"This is not good enough, and I will not stand by and accept that this is the only way to house whanau in need," Woods said.
"We are making progress on addressing the housing need in Northland. This includes a brand new 37 home development in the suburb of Maunu that will get under way in the first quarter of next year."
Kāinga Ora will try to identify a new site for a transitional housing development but hasn't confirmed any possible location yet.
The new site would need to be more than 5000sq m, with a slope of less than 15 degrees gradient, owned by either the Crown or local government and zoned for residential or town centre, to meet the criteria.
However, if Kāinga Ora can't find land that meets those criteria, it will investigate other land options.
"We are looking to match any land acquisitions with areas of greatest housing need. However, in all cases, we must then factor in access to infrastructure and the ability to meet necessary planning consents," a Kāinga Ora spokesperson said.